Food Friendly Flowers

Tue, 11/12/2012 - 14:06
River Hawthorn: Crataegus rivularis
River Hawthorn: Crataegus rivularis

Once upon a time (maybe) a river of flowers encircled the world. People broke the circle by building their villages, towns and cities. They fractured it with roadways, railways and runways and bulldozed it apart with construction of all kinds. Outside the city, agriculture, monoculture, pesticides, mining and forestry stole even more territory from the wild, with the overall effect that the distances between areas of forage and habitat have become further and further apart and food more and more difficult for pollinators to find.

Bumblebee in flight © Markus Flath

A flying insect needs to pick up fuel in the form of nectar from flowers and if the pit stops are too far apart – well it’s in trouble! Around the world, insect pollinated wild plants are diminishing faster than wind or water pollinated wild plants, and one reason given is loss of territory. In the UK alone, 3 million hectares of flower rich grassland has been lost since the 1950s or put it another way, 97% of floral forage has been lost!

River of Flowers aim is to fill in these gaps by creating ‘pollination streams’ or trails of floral forage for pollinators. We connect wild places and the communities growing wild. If you are interested in joining or starting a River of Flowers near you, contact us at

Bee on Cherry Blossom © Mournlight

Bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators don't only pollinate wildflowers, they also pollinate our food! So in addition to connecting up all the wild places, River of Flowers also connects up all the food growing projects in urban orchards, allotments and community gardens as well as the 'growing' communities including beekeepers, gardeners of all ages including school children and city farmers. Growing wild is wonderful for food crops. Sun loving wildflowers can be grown on the verges of allotments to attract beneficial insects that pollinate food crops and this has been shown to increase yield. Wildflowers and wild trees provide forage for pollinators on either side of the food growing season so pollinators don’t starve. 

Wild Carrot © Alvesgaspar

Wild plants from the Carrot or Apiaceae Family appeal to insects such as ladybirds and lacewings that feed on pest insects. These include Sweet Cicely, Wild Carrot and Wild Fennel. Wildflowers can improve the soil too. Wild plants from the Pea or Fabaceae Family, such as Everlasting Pea, Red Clover and Tufted Vetch, are able to trap nitrogen from the air and fertilise the soil whereas other wild plants from the Borage or Boraginaceae Family, such as Comfrey and Borage, make great green mulches.

Purple Betony © Raffi Kojian

Valuable companion plants from the Mint or Laminaceae Family that include peppermint, spearmint, marjoram and basil have their wild counterparts in Wild Basil, Red Deadnettle, Purple Betony and Wild Marjoram. The wild versions of the Onion or Amaryllidaceae Family that include garlic, chives, leeks and onions are represented by Three-cornered Leek, Wild Chives, Wild Garlic and Wild Leek. Why not grow the wild ones as well as the cultivated varieties on your allotment or community garden?

Sweet Violet © Fritz Geller-Grimm

Under the trees in urban orchards where there is plenty of space, shade-loving wildflowers such as Nettle-leaved Bellflower, Lily of the Valley, Honeysuckle, Scented Violet, Dog Violet, Wood Anemone, Wood Spurge, Red Campion, Foxglove, Primrose, Ivy and Bluebell, can flourish.



River Hawthorn: Crataegus rivularis © Tweeber